Ah, money–every couple’s favorite topic, right? Obviously, I’m joking. If it was every couple’s favorite part of marriage it wouldn’t be one of the top causes of divorce. But money management doesn’t have to be a pain point for you and your spouse. In fact, most arguments about money aren’t even about money. They revolve around events in our past or present that have shaped our outlooks on prosperity, security and independence.
Now, I’ve only been married for five years, so I don’t proclaim to be an expert on this subject. But hopefully the tips I share below, things that have worked in my own marriage, will help you and your current/future partner understand each other’s views on money and build good foundation for shared financial success.
How many of our relationship problems would be solved if we only worked on our communication skills more? But for good communication to happen–active listening and candid discussion–you have to make sure your relationship is a safe environment for sharing. Money is a sensitive topic. It’s easy to pass judgement and feel judged for how you deal with money, particularly when your actions are influenced by things from your childhood or upbringing. Marriage should be a judgement-free zone where you each feel comfortable listening to your past and present money “histories.” And don’t be afraid to ask questions. It may feel like prying, but you need to know what’s going on with your spouse if you want to create a stable financial future together. So ideally, before you get married you’ve both answered these important questions:
- What did you learn about spending/saving money as a child, and who taught you?
- How much money do you make?
- Are you saving for retirement?
- How much is your health/life insurance?
- What is your credit score?
- Do you have any debt?
- Have you ever filed for bankruptcy?
- How do you feel about credit cards?
- How do you feel about joint bank accounts?
- Does it matter to you who the breadwinner is?
- What are your financial goals?
- What do you struggle with? What are you good at?
Get on the same page about bank accounts.
Once you’ve done a deep into each other’s financial histories, you can establish some goals you want to accomplish together. But don’t forget to agree on how you’ll handle daily and monthly spending. How you deal with the grocery receipts and cell phone bills will affect your marriage more today than retirement home you’re hoping to build in 20+ years.
One question every married couple faces: Do we merge banks accounts or keep everything separate? The same will have to be decided when it comes to sharing credit cards, joining the other person’s health insurance plan and deciding how you’ll track or split expenses.
No matter what you and spouse decide, you both need to be on the same page about WHY you’re doing it, and agree that this is the best method for you. For my husband and me, merging our bank accounts makes it easier to pay our bills, track our spending as a family, and make investments. Selfishly, it also serves as a kind of safety net for both of us because we’ve both been the breadwinners at different points in our relationship.
Know the long-term and short-term priorities.
In the same way that we need more women, particularly women of color, in the boardrooms at work, we need more women to take a vested interest in their money. Women are already at a disadvantage. We don’t save as much for retirement, are more likely to leave the workforce for extended periods of time, and, on top of that, we make significantly less than our male counterparts (and sometimes our husbands). Whether you are the breadwinner in the relationship or not, you have a right to know how the family is doing financially and offer suggestions on how to improve. You should be setting financial priorities with your spouse.
Need to pay down debt? Make a plan for boosting payments together. Dream of buying a vacation home? Discuss how you can both sock away extra money for a down payment. And your priorities don’t even have to be so grand. Looking to buy more organic food? Want to make more donations to your church? Landscape your backyard? Take a vacation every year? You should know what you are both working towards and what daily, monthly and yearly steps you each need to take to get there.
Be honest and transparent.
It may take a few difficult conversations to get to the financial priorities for your marriage. There will likely be some compromises. Maybe you have to give up your daily Starbucks breaks, and your spouse has to cut back on designer purchases. Some changes will be easy, but don’t forget to be open about your struggles. Be upfront about what you’re spending money on. Don’t hide purchases. And don’t feel ashamed if you get pressured into buying brunch for some girlfriends when it’s not in the budget. On the flip side, don’t shame your spouse when they make a mistake.
Remember: You and your spouse are on the same team.**
You will only be successful at managing your finances together if you recognize that this is not a game of you against your spouse. Your money versus their money. Even if you choose to maintain separate bank accounts, the money you and your spouse earn belongs to the family. When you got married you became a team. That doesn’t mean you abandon your individuality, but you both work together, combining the skills that you each excel at to achieve prosperity in every aspect of your life.
If at any point, it starts to feel like you are in a “battle royale” over money management, take a step back and look at what needs to change (see note below).** Don’t be afraid to get help with this area of your marriage from a support group, a relationship therapist, a financial planner or even close friends. Get ideas from friends and family members, but understand that what works for one couple, doesn’t work for all. You and your spouse need to communicate openly about the financial goals and priorities for YOUR marriage and formulate your own plan for success.
Like everything in marriage, money management should be approached with love and respect for the other person in the relationship. Unfortunately, financial abuse, a form of domestic abuse, is common. If your spouse denies you access to financial information, controls your credit cards and income or displays other abusive behavior, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224.
Jewel Edwards-Ashman is a writer, editor and aspiring YouTube hip-hop dancing sensation. She’s an INFJ who loves getting into deep conversations about health care, money and the best ways to prepare the perfect roast chicken.
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